Just returning from Italy, on a trip to experience and discover and bring that energy back to you, Barb S, Binny's Des Plaines Wine Manager, reports from the road:   The variety across regions is striking. Starting in the south, the region of Puglia has almost tropical heat humidity, yielding forward wines that are juicy and jammy and just a little rustic. But as we went north to Chianti in the heart of Tuscany, the heat became arid and dry. Then, on the west coast in Bolgheri, the air cooled with a nice breeze from the sea.   We came back with an overwhelming impression of the charming hospitality and incredible scenery. Even if you don't care about the wine (which we do!) the sweeping landscapes, the color and beauty of the countryside are an incredible experience. We also came back suffering prosciutto withdrawl.  

  The starkest contrast was in leaving Castello della Sala, a 14th century castle, with its ancient, dark cellar boasting centuries of history, then going to Antinori's new flagship winery in Chianti Classico, a modern, immaculate winemaking facility. And I have a new appreciation of the vast scope of Tuscany now that I crossed it in a bus with questionable air conditioning in the two-hour drive from Tignanello to Guado a Tasso.   One highlight of the trip was our visit to the Guado al Tasso Estate in Bolgheri. We walked in the vast cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot vineyards, which stretch out for 300 hectares and share the history and terroir of the other famous wines of the area- Sassicaia and Ornellaia. They make several great wines, with the reds leading the way. For those on an everyday budget, the 2012 Il Bruciato is appealing for its soft, forward style and richness, due in part to a warmer growing season.   But it was Guado al Tasso's flagship (we tasted 2011) that left us stunned. Expressive, full-bodied and powerful; refined, elegant and pretty all at once, with lingering flavors of dark berries and espresso, finishing with notes of black cherry and hints of herbs and tobacco. Served with a slow-cooked venison stew hunted by Albeira Antinori herself, this turned out to be our most sophisticated and decadent experience of the week.   What a busy trip! As fantastic as everything was, it left little time for exploring. Luckily we had four hours of free time in Florence. And of course, that's when it started pouring.  

  Thanks to Russ P. of Binny's Skokie for the stunning photography.